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Archaeologists in Print: Publishing for the People

April 2021 (125.2)

Book Review

Archaeologists in Print: Publishing for the People

By Amara Thornton. London: University College London Press 2018. Pp. xii + 293. £40. ISBN 978‑1‑78735‑259‑9 (cloth).

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Thornton’s volume examines the relationship between British archaeologists who were active in the Near East from the late 19th to the early 20th century and publishing houses in Britain. Thornton investigates the ways in which archaeologists, whom she loosely defines as “anyone studying or operating within archaeological contexts or working with remains of the human past,” were “scripting spadework,” which is the process of “bringing the results of their research to the attention of the wider public” (1, 5). Thornton argues that this scripting was part of the process of embedding “the Empire” in the daily experiences and popular imagination of the British people by functioning as a means through which a keen reading public experienced the “exotic” Near East (12). Moreover, this scripting conditioned the public’s perception of the archaeologist as a “free-spirited international traveller, adaptable, adventurous, and scientific” (2–3). The motive behind this conditioning was to elicit funding from the reading public to finance archaeologists’ activities abroad. W.M. Flinders Petrie, a pioneer in modern Egyptology, once noted the importance of “marketing” for archaeologists (75). In the guidebook Fascinating Egypt (L. Weinthal, ed., African World 1913), Flinders Petrie contributed photographs with the aim of drawing tourists to ancient sites and financing his excavations. Archaeologists had to be “commerce-minded” and collaborate with commercial publishers to cultivate their public profiles for popular consumption as a means to generate capital (2). For example, the Illustrated London News published a double-page spread in March of 1923 featuring portraits of famous British archaeologists and highlighting the strength of the relationship between the paper and its contributors such as Howard Carter, Flinders Petrie, Leonard Woolley, Archibald Sayce, and David George Hogarth.

Thornton has a clear methodology for examining the process of scripting: she lists 50 prominent British archaeologists and examines their respective bibliographies. These bibliographies reveal that more than 70 of the firms publishing archaeologists’ books were aiming at a popular readership. Publishing houses targeted Christian readers and those interested in ancient Egypt and the classical world. Publications were marketed to gender-specific audiences and were tailored to particular socioeconomic classes, from cheap editions for the less fortunate to lavishly illustrated editions for the elite, such as Flinders Petrie’s The Arts and Crafts of Ancient Egypt (T.N. Foulis 1910).

By the late 19th century, archaeologists setting out for the Near East were trained in formal institutions. These institutions, as well as tourism in the Near East, produced and shaped archaeologists who emerged from and promoted public interest in archaeology (ch. 2). Thornton points out that women also played a role in promoting public interest in archaeology by developing a public and commercial expertise through lecturing and the “lady guides” movement (ch. 3). For instance, Helen Tirard held classes aimed at “ladies” at the British Museum. Elsewhere, Thornton explores the role of compendiums in spreading the visibility of archaeologists (ch. 4) and how archaeologists packaged archaeological knowledge for public consumption (ch. 5). For example, Thornton notes that the Amalgamated Press bound photographs of key contributors into the front of each volume in the first three-volume edition of J.A. Hammerton’s popular compendium Wonders of the Past (1923). Volume 1 featured a photograph of Flinders Petrie leaning against a museum case with artifact in hand and the caption “Doyen of British Archaeologists.” Thornton draws attention to the relationships between archaeologists and the publishing houses of John Murray, Macmillan & Co., and Penguin, as well as how these relationships shaped the reception of archaeology in Britain (chs. 6–8). Thornton also considers how archaeologists interpreted and presented archaeology in fiction genres such as romance, horror, fantasy, and crime (ch. 9). An example of the entanglement of archaeologists, publishing houses, and fiction writing is the case of archaeologist Max Mallowan. Penguin appointed Mallowan as editor of its special subseries Pelican Archaeologies. Mallowan was the husband of crime novelist Agatha Christie, whom he met while working as an assistant to Leonard Woolley at Ur. Christie accompanied Mallowan on various excavations and drew on her experiences in a number of her crime novels, including Murder in Mesopotamia, Death on the Nile, Appointment with Death, Death Comes at the End, and They Came to Baghdad. Despite Christie not being an archaeologist, the authenticity of her scripted spadework was supported by her connection to Mallowan’s archaeological activities. She accompanied Mallowan to Nineveh, where he worked with Reginald Campbell Thompson. Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies was dedicated to Thompson, who dedicated his romantic melodrama Digger’s Fancy to Christie and Mallowan. Thompson also authored A Song of Araby and A Mirage of Sheba, two exotic adventure romances featuring explorer-archaeologists with one foot in Britain and the other in the alluring East.

Thornton sheds light on the wider political context in which archaeological writing was produced, disseminated, and received by the reading public as the British empire expanded and the territories of the waning Ottoman empire—namely Egypt, Iraq, Palestine, Sudan, and the Transjordan—would all succumb to British rule. These developments had significant consequences because archaeologists were beholden to officials for permission to explore and excavate sites and to export artifacts back to Britain. Thornton situates archaeologists within the context of imperial infrastructures, from espionage, museum collecting, and tourism to knowledge production and public perception. Noted for his “tanned skin,” Flinders Petrie was identified with Egypt, and he situated himself as the authority and translator of Egypt to his British readers (82). As such, he used his intimate knowledge of Egypt to justify his positions on imperial politics. Another example is Hogarth. On the one hand, he was the director of the Arab bureau for British intelligence in Cairo, playing a role alongside T.E. Lawrence in the Arab revolt against the Ottomans, and he was a close associate of Mark Sykes, coauthor of the Sykes-Picot Agreement that partitioned the Middle East between the British empire and the French. On the other hand, Hogarth contributed a history of the Hejaz and Arabia to the popular illustrated compendium Peoples of All Nations: Their Life Today and The Story of Their Past (J.A. Hammerton, ed., Amalgamated Press n.d. c. 1920, 7 vols.), which featured a history of Egypt by Flinders Petrie and “offered the British public a carefully constructed image of countries and peoples that most readers would never see in the flesh” (99). Archaeologists such as Mallowan, Thompson, Flinders Petrie, and Hogarth played a role in engendering the romantic and exotic allure of the East and the construction of what Edward Said refers to as the “semi-mythical Orient” (Orientalism, Vintage Books 1979, xviii).

Thornton’s examination of the hitherto underexplored area of nonacademic publications, such as memoirs, guidebooks, popular histories, children’s books, fiction, and serialized compendiums, makes Archaeologists in Print unique among books on the history of archaeology, where the tendency has been to focus on methodologies, field experiences, and the politics of writing. Thornton opens the world of archaeology to include not only male academics but also female adventurers, local laborers, illustrators, readers, and tourists. This book is appropriate for scholars and students of archaeology, ancient Near Eastern studies, and postcolonial studies.

Sayyid-Ali Al-Zaidi
Department of Humanities
York University

Book Review of Archaeologists in Print: Publishing for the People, by Amara Thornton
Reviewed by Sayyid-Ali Al-Zaidi
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 125, No. 2 (April 2021)
Published online
DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1252.AlZaidi

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